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Our Flag Means Death Star Nathan Foad on Working With Taika Waititi, Growing Up in Newark and Learning to Take Risks

3 August 22 interview: George White
photos: Vahid Gold

From posting comedic videos on Twitter to starring in one of the most popular comedies on TV, Our Flag Means Death, Newark-born Nathan Foad has had one hell of a story so far. We chat to the writer, actor and producer about working with Taika Waititi, his new show, Newark, Newark, and how he plans to build an entertainment empire…

How did you come to join the Our Flag Means Death cast, and how did you feel when you were offered the role of Lucius? 
Honestly, it’s the maddest thing that’s ever happened to me. I got a scholarship to drama school, but I didn’t love it and decided I wasn’t going to act any more, and instead worked as a comedy writer for years - and I still do, that’s my main thing. But eventually I started making these Twitter videos. It’s so tragic, really, because it was just me seeking attention from strangers on the internet - but then, aren’t we all? Anyway, one day I started to get all this traction. A couple of them went viral, and Taika Waititi started following me. He DM’d me a couple of times to say he loved my work and I thought that was really cool, but never thought anything would come of it. 

Then in lockdown, I heard about this show called Our Flag Means Death, which Taika was working on. I didn’t think I’d have the chance to get involved, though - I didn’t have an acting agent or anything. But in November 2020, my writing agent got in touch to say they booked me a self-tape. It was peak lockdown, I looked awful, and I cut up an old shirt and made it into a sort of pirate outfit. I sent off the tape and two weeks later I got the call to say I’d got the part. It was definitely an odd way in, but I think I’ve always done things in a roundabout way - so it was actually quite in-keeping with the rest of my career. 

You mentioned Taika Waititi there, who obviously plays a major role on the show as a director, producer and star. What is he like to work with? 
I’m a big fan of his work - I think Boy and Hunt for the Wilderpeople are such incredible films - so I was definitely nervous to meet him. You like to believe that famous people don’t have an aura, but it was mad when I found myself in a rehearsal room on the Warner Brothers lot and Taika walked in - he has such a presence. I’ve never met anyone like him before. When he’s directing and acting, it’s like trying to work with a Catherine wheel because he’s firing off in all directions - which is great, it keeps you on your toes. 

You like to believe that famous people don’t have an aura, but when Taika walked in, he had such a presence

The wider cast is also packed with incredible talent. How much have you learned from working on the show?
It sounds so X Factor and lame, but I have learned to be braver in my choices. I can’t watch my performances in the first couple of episodes because I can see how rigid I am, and how strictly I’m sticking to the script, while everyone else was improvising and trying stuff out. I felt like there were rules to stick to, but the thing about comedy is that it’s found in moments of spontaneity and breaking the rules. So I learned to trust my instincts, and I actually began to take risks.

Our Flag has now been renewed for a second season - how have you found the audience reaction so far? 
It’s truly insane. I’d anticipated that people would like the show, especially with such a stellar cast, but I wasn’t anticipating the fervour and absolute devotion that people have to it. I mean, I grew up on Tumblr and Twitter and MySpace, so I totally understand how fandom works. I just wasn’t expecting to be on the receiving end of it. The fact that fans are able to see so much of themselves in the show is so special. 

You’re not only smashing it in front of the camera, but you’ve been working hard behind it, with the show that you created, Newark, Newark, recently coming to Gold. What does that project mean to you? 
Newark, Newark was a dream come true. I’ve been working as a comedy writer for the past nine years, but this was the first show that I ever got officially optioned by a production company. It’s been this weird constant in my life. It’s been in development with a different channel, it’s been through different iterations. But it’s also been the best experience of my life, the most creatively and professionally rewarding thing I’ve ever done.

I’m a cartoonishly ambitious person, and I always have been. Over the next ten, fifteen years, I want to continue to build a brand

How did you find growing up in Newark? 
I’ve had an ever-evolving journey with Newark. I think I initially had the classic archetypal journey for a young person growing up in a small town - it can feel stifling and you don’t really appreciate all the lovely things it has to offer. But as I got older and more mature, I realised that it is such a beautiful place, and I obviously love it because I wrote a TV show about it. I do wish I could go back and tell my teenage self that one day you’ll be able to see this town for how amazing it really is. 

Finally, what do you hope to have achieved in, say, ten years’ time? 
A demented amount. I’m a cartoonishly ambitious person, and I always have been. Over the next ten, fifteen years, I want to continue to build a brand. I’m really inspired by writers who have created a sort of universe within which their characters live - people like Tina Fey and Michaela Coel, who have made several shows that are all part of the same world. I find it really incredible when people can create such varied work, but it’s still all in their voice. So, yeah, I’d love to create a big empire of my own. 

Newark, Newark is available to watch on NOW 

@nathan_foad

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